Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 86: Russia claims ‘nearing’ full control of Ukraine’s Luhansk

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Russia says ‘nearing’ full control of Ukraine’s Luhansk

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has said Moscow was nearing full control of Ukraine’s eastern separatist region of Luhansk.

Russia recognised the independence of the separatist republics shortly before launching the military action.

“The liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic is nearing completion,” Shoigu added.

G7 mobilise $19.8bn for Ukraine

Finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies have announced they are mobilising $19.8bn for Ukraine and pledged to give more financial support if needed.

The financial leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the UK – the G7 – held talks in Germany to finance Kyiv as it struggles to fend off Russia’s invasion and is running out of cash.

“In 2022, we have mobilised $19.8bn of budget support, including $9.5bn of recent commitments … to help Ukraine close its financing gap and continue ensuring the delivery of basic services to the Ukrainian people,” the G7 stated in their communique.

Russia to halt gas flows to Finland on Saturday

Russia’s Gazprom has informed Finland that it will halt flows of natural gas from Saturday morning, according to Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum.

Gasum has refused to pay Gazprom Export in roubles as Russia has requested European countries to do.

“It is highly regrettable that natural gas supplies under our supply contract will now be halted,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen announced in a statement.

‘Russified’ schools to open in Mariupol: mayor

Russian authorities have forcibly herded public school teachers in the occupied city of Mariupol to launch a new curriculum based on Russian, according to a Ukrainian official.

Before the end of May, they plan to open four schools in each of the ruined and depopulated city’s districts, that, in September, will switch to “Russian standards”, fugitive city official Petro Andriyushchenko said on Telegram.

He added only history, mathematics, and Russian literature will be taught. Tens of thousands of civilians remain in the city that largely lacks power, water and gas supplies.

Report: Biden may mediate Turkey’s talks with Finland, Sweden on NATO accession

US President Joe Biden may broker negotiations among Turkey, Finland and Sweden on the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership bid, which Ankara has been opposed to over security concerns, Turkish newspaper Milliyet reported on Friday, citing NATO sources.

The sources stressed the significance of the recent meeting of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson with Biden on their possible NATO membership, adding that the US president may act as a mediator between them and Turkey.

The way in which Sweden addresses Turkey’s concerns with regard to the presence of Kurdish lawmakers in the Swedish parliament, whom Ankara designates as terrorists, will be instrumental to resolving the issue, the report added.

Finland and Sweden submitted their NATO membership applications to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday. Whether the two countries will be admitted to the alliance hinges on unanimous approval by NATO member states.

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara had informed its NATO allies that it would say no to the membership of Sweden and Finland, and would not change its position.

Niinisto later noted that Helsinki took Turkish concerns about its accession to NATO seriously and would continue discussions with Ankara in the coming days.

Russia: Total of 1,908 Ukrainian Azov militants from Azovstal surrendered

As many as 1,908 Ukrainian militants from the Azov neo-Nazi battalion (under criminal investigation in Russia), who had been blocked in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for the past weeks, have surrendered, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

“The blockade of the Azovstal plant continues. Civilians who were held there by Ukrainian nationalists were evacuated from the territory of the plant — 177 people were saved, including 85 women and 47 children. Qualified medical and psychological assistance was provided to everyone. Nationalists blocked at the plant began to surrender. At the moment, 1,908 people have laid down their arms,” Shoigu added.

Ukraine says 232 children dead amid war

Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman claimed that 232 children have died and 427 have been injured since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The numbers come from a register of pre-trial investigations and “other sources that need confirmation,” Lyudmyla Denisova added.

‘15,000 hide in basements’ in sieged Severodonetsk: official

Up to 15,000 civilians who could not leave the besieged eastern town of Severodonetsk are trying to survive intense shelling of Russian forces, an official says.

“These people live in bomb shelters, in the basements of apartment buildings, where it is possible to hid, to find shelter from the shelling,” district administration head Alexander Stryuk said in televised remarks.

He added that the shelling destroyed “up to 70 percent” of houses and apartment buildings in the town that lies only 100 kilometers northwest of rebel-held Luhansk and has been a focus of Russia’s offensive in recent weeks.

Germany could receive LNG from Qatar as early as 2024: Deputy PM

Qatar hopes to start sending liquefied natural gas to Germany in 2024, according to the Persian Gulf state’s deputy prime minister who spoke to the German daily Handelsblatt.

“We want to have our US Golden Pass liquefied natural gas plant in Texas, in which Qatar Energy holds a 70 percent stake, ready to deliver to Germany as early as 2024,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who is also the Qatari foreign minister, was quoted as saying.

Later Friday, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is scheduled to hold talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

Russia’s forces will likely redeploy Donbas once Mariupol secured: UK

Russian forces are likely to shift focus to reinforcing their operations in the Donbas once they have secured Mariupol, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

“Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

“This can be a lengthy process when done thoroughly,” it added.

It noted that because Russian commanders are under pressure to demonstrate effectiveness, their forces will likely redistribute without adequate preparation, which “risks further force attrition”.

US seeks to provide missiles to Ukraine for use against Russian ships

The White House is considering sending two types of anti-ship missile – Boeing Harpoons and Raytheon-Kongsberg Naval Strike Missiles (NSM), Reuters reported citing three US officials and two congressional sources as saying.

However, the weapons’ delivery is being complicated by the fact that there is limited availability of platforms to launch the Harpoons from shore, given that the missile is largely sea-based, the report added.

The Joe Biden administration is considering taking a launcher off of a US ship, according to the officials cited in the report.

There is also reluctance among countries possessing Harpoon missiles to be the first to send them to Ukraine because of concerns about Russian reprisals should a ship be sunk, the officials said.

The United States considers delivery of NSMs to be less logistically challenging, due to the fact that NATO allies could loan available ground-based launchers, the report said.

Weapons requests, including the US systems, would need approval by the State Department, according to the report.

13 dead in Luhansk as Russians advance towards Severdonetsk: Governor

The governor of the Luhansk region says 12 people died in Severodonetsk in the past day, and another in the Girske settlement, as Russian forces advanced towards the regional centre and Lysychansk.

“Across the Luhansk region more than 60 destroyed houses,” Serhey Haidai stated on Telegram adding these were in Zolote, Vrubivka and Rubizhne.

“It is impossible to count the damage in Toshkivka, where the hostilities continue,” Haidai noted.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces has reported that Russia’s latest assault on Severodonetsk was unsuccessful and the Russians lost personnel, then retreated.

Diplomat: Russia has reason to believe Ukraine grain going to Europe in exchange for arms

Russia suspects Ukraine is sending grain to Europe in exchange for military assistance amid Russia’s special military operation, Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia stated on Thursday.

“Grain … are being carried out of Ukraine actively using railways and using barges on the Danube but where is this screen going? We have reason to suspect that this grain is not being used to feed the hungry in the Global South, but it’s being stored in grain storage of a number of different European countries,” Nebenzia said during a UN Security Council meeting.

“As we understand it, Ukraine is paying for deliveries of Western weapons in this way,”he added.

Western nations’ sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus damaged the agricultural sector even prior to the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, Nebenzia said.

“Illegal unilateral sanctions on Russia and Belarus have damaged the agricultural sector, and they had done that even before the events in Ukraine,” he added.

Russian forces blocking more than 1,000 cars from evacuating to Zaporizhzhia: Regional administration

More than 1,000 cars carrying Ukrainians have been prevented from crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in Zaporizhzhia, according to the regional military administration there.

The administration said on Friday that cars full of people trying to evacuate were stuck at a Russian checkpoint in the city of Vasylivka.

“In Vasylivka, the occupiers have not allowed more than 1,000 cars to enter the territory controlled by Ukraine for the fourth day in a row,” the Telegram post read, adding that there are women and children in the cars, and that most of them no longer have money for food and water.

Several cars managed to break through to the city of Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine, on Thursday.

“Business owners of Berdyansk are forced to buy goods from Crimea, and it is necessary to sign up for an escort convoy. Such registration helps local collaborators to collect information about who returns with the goods and from whom you can later collect ‘tribute’,” the regional administration said.

A video posted to Telegram by the Ukrainian government’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security shows a long line of cars on the side of a road.

Donbas region has been completely destroyed: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced Russian forces had “completely destroyed” the eastern Donbas region and accused Moscow of carrying out senseless bombardments as it intensified its offensive.

In the Chernihiv region north of Kyiv, the village of Desna was hit with Russian missiles Thursday left many dead, Zelensky said.

Desna is 40 forty miles from the border with Belarus.

“Russian strikes on Chernihiv region, in particular the terrible blow on the Desna, there is an analysis of debris, many dead,” Zelensky stated.

There are “constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine, the Donbas is completely destroyed — all this has no and cannot have any military explanation for Russia,” he continued.

“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible,” he continued, adding the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to advance in the liberation of the Kharkiv region.

“In the Donbas, the occupiers are trying to increase pressure. There’s hell, and that’s no exaggeration. The brutal and absolutely senseless bombing of Severodonetsk … There were 12 dead and dozens wounded in just one day,” he said.

“The bombing and shelling of other cities, the air and missile strikes of the Russian army — all this is not just fighting during the war,” he continued.

“This is a deliberate and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. Destroy as many houses, social facilities and enterprises as possible. This is what will qualify the genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice,” he added.

 “The first trial in Ukraine against a Russian war criminal has already begun. And it will end with the full restoration of justice within the international tribunal. I’m sure of it. We will find and bring to justice all those who give and carry out criminal orders,” he concluded.

Arming Kiev, sanctioning Russia won’t lead to peace or security in Europe: China

Pumping Ukraine full of weapons and sanctioning Russia will not resolve Europe’s security crisis, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has stated.

“The Ukrainian crisis continues to drag on. China’s position has always been consistent, and focused on the need to promote reconciliation and facilitate negotiations,” Wang said, speaking at a virtual meeting of BRICS foreign ministers on Thursday.

Emphasizing Beijing’s opposition to the “weaponization” of the world economy, the foreign minister blasted attempts “add fuel to the fire” in the Ukraine conflict, and condemned efforts to force countries to choose sides.

Wang also expressed concern that the longer the Ukraine crisis continues, the more it will threaten global food, energy and economic security.

“Efforts must be made to reduce its negative impacts, and in particular, to support vulnerable developing nations,” the foreign minister added.

The Chinese foreign minister expressed hope that Russia and Ukraine could return to the negotiating table, and that NATO and the European Union could begin a “comprehensive dialogue” with Russia to address Moscow’s concerns.

Russian-backed hackers behind numerous disinformation campaigns to demoralise Ukraine: Report

Russian-backed actors have launched numerous disinformation campaigns seeking to, among other objectives, “demoralise” Ukrainians, incite internal unrest and divide Ukraine from its allies, a report by cybersecurity firm Mandiant has found.

In one of the campaigns, referred to as “Secondary Infektion,” the actors falsely claimed that President Volodymyr Zelensky had suicided in a military bunker in Kyiv because of his failure to keep his country safe.

Another campaign spread falsehoods saying that Ukraine’s Azov regiment was seeking vengeance against Zelensky for abandoning his troops in Mariupol.

One operation disseminated an artificial intelligence-generated “deepfake” video of Zelensky stating that Ukraine had surrendered to Russia.

The Ukraine 24 website and a news ticker in one of the channel’s broadcasts showed identical messages or screenshots from the deepfake video.

Ukraine war and global financial situation ‘challenging’ for Asia: IMF

The International Monetary Fund’s deputy managing director has said the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and tighter global financial conditions would make this year “challenging” for Asia.

Kenji Okamura stated the war was affecting Asia through higher commodity prices and slower growth in Europe.

He added Asian economies faced a choice between supporting growth with more stimulus policies or withdrawing it to stabilise debt and inflation.

Russia will fight Western attempts to steal its foreign assets: Kremlin spokesperson

Russia will fight attempts to steal its assets abroad, the Kremlin’s spokesperson has stated.

“This could be a continuation of the very line that has become popular recently in a number of countries – stealing other people’s assets. We take this negatively, we will fight it, we will defend our assets,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday the European Union was looking into ways of using the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted on Wednesday that the US did not have the legal authority to do so.

Ukraine’s top military commander shares upbeat assessment about course of conflict with Russia

Ukraine’s most senior military figure has met with his NATO counterparts and given an upbeat assessment of the conflict.

“Today, we are not just defending ourselves. We have conducted a series of successful counter-attacks,” General Valeriy Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, said he had told the NATO Military Committee.

Ukrainian forces had unblocked sieges of Kharkiv and Mykolaiv, and were fighting in the Kherson direction, he added.

Zaluzhny said he had stressed that Ukrainians are paying an extremely high price for freedom and European choice, and Europe is experiencing the greatest security crisis since the Second World War.

Ever since 2014, “we were aware that the full-scale aggression would eventually begin, and we were getting ready for it,” he added.

Ukraine’s military had “acknowledged that the first month would be the turning point. We managed to take away the enemy’s strategic initiative, cause critical losses, and force them to abandon the main objective — the capture of the city of Kyiv,” he continued.

However, despite Ukrainian successes, he stated, “the Russians are maintaining missile fire of high intensity, on average 10-14 ballistic and cruise missiles per day. This is a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to NATO member states,” and it was crucial to strengthen missile defenses.

US plans to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet: Ukrainian Official

A Ukrainian government adviser has claimed that the US is planning to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

In a post on Twitter, Anton Herashchenko said that the “effective” way Ukrainians handled Russian warships “convinced the US to prepare a plan to unblock the ports”.

“Deliveries of powerful anti-ship weapons (Harpoon and Naval Strike Missile with a range of 250-300 km) are being discussed,” Herashchenko added.

The Reuters news agency had earlier reported that, according to officials, the White House was working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade.

Report: Videos show Russian soldiers executing Ukrainian men in Bucha

An investigation by the New York Times, including previously unreleased videos, confirms witness accounts that Russian forces in Bucha took captive and executed several men.

In one of the videos, some of the Ukrainian captives are hunched over, holding the belts of those in front of them. Others have their hands over their heads.

“Walk to the right, bitch,” one of the soldiers orders them.

The men are then forced to the ground, with one wearing a bright blue shirt.

Witnesses then report soldiers took the men behind a nearby office building that the Russians had taken over and turned into a makeshift base. There were gunshots. The captives did not return.

A drone video taken later that day shows dead bodies lying on the ground by the side of the office building at 144 Yablunska Street as two Russian soldiers stood guard beside them. A flash of bright blue is visible among the dead bodies.

Infighting between Russian-backed proxy authorities in Mariupol: Think-Tank

Russian-backed proxy authorities in now occupied Mariupol are not collaborating with each other, which is likely exacerbated by the evacuation of Ukrainian fighters from Azovstal, the Institute for the Study of War has announced.

In its latest campaign assessment, the institute said there had been complaints on pro-Russian Telegram channels that Moscow’s forces were removing its own servicemen from Donetsk hospitals to treat recently evacuated Azovstal soldiers.

The institute also noted that the advisor to Mariupol’s mayor had reported proxy authorities in Mariupol, who collaborate with the Russian occupiers, don’t report to the leadership of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Instead, they are guided by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the institute stated.

“If confirmed, these reports indicate a continued lack of consistency in the way Russian and proxy authorities are handling the evacuation of Ukrainian forces from Azovstal and the overall capture of Mariupol,” the institute added.

US to ship $100mn in military aid to Ukraine

The United States has announced a shipment of $100m in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40bn approved earlier by Congress.

The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the US has provided to Ukraine already since the invasion began.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the equipment will be in the hands of Ukrainian forces “very, very soon”.

UK to provide 1.3bn pounds in military aid for Ukraine

The British government will provide 1.3 billion pounds in military aid for Ukraine, the Ukrainian government-run Ukrinform news agency reported Thursday, citing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

During a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Johnson stated that Britain would supply long-range artillery, shore-to-ship missiles and unmanned drones to Ukraine as a part of its military assistance.

Zelensky and Johnson also discussed ways to address the issue of the blockade of Ukraine’s seaports and options to open up critical sea and land supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks.

US accuses Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia at the United Nations Security Council of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding “hostage” the food supply for millions worldwide who rely on Ukrainian exports.

“The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not – to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

“The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military,” he added.

UN warns war in Ukraine adds to hunger woes

The United Nations food chief is warning the war in Ukraine has created “an unprecedented crisis” of escalating food prices that has sparked protests.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said growing hunger will add at least 47 million people to the 276 million “marching to starvation” before Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbour.

Beasley told a UN Security Council meeting Thursday that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door”.

UN urges Russia, Ukraine to resume talks

The UN has urged Russia and Ukraine to “build on” contacts and coordination that enabled the evacuation operations from Mariupol in order to resume stalled talks to end the war.

“Those operations could not have happened had it not been for cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine authorities,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

“I would like to think that the fact that this cooperation has worked relatively well, certainly better than in previous weeks of this war, suggests there is something to build on,” he noted.

US, Russian generals speak for first time since Ukraine war began: Pentagon

Top US General Mark Milley has spoken by telephone with his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov, their first discussion since before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, the Pentagon announced.

Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, “discussed several security-related issues of concern,” according to a spokesperson for the US Joint Staff, offering no other details.

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